NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had a rough start to the summer. After more than 30 years of observing the cosmos, the telescope suffered a major computer failure in June. NASA worked on the issue over the next few weeks, arriving at a solution last week. Now, the fully restored Hubble has started doing science again. NASA has now released the first new images since the failure.
The issues began on June 13th when the iconic spacecraft dropped into safe mode after the payload computer stopped communicating with the main computer. This system is supposed to manage all the scientific instruments, so Hubble could not continue operating without a fix. Initially, the team believed a simple memory module swap would do the trick. Hubble’s payload computer has three spares for just such an eventuality. However, the issue proved to be more difficult to track down.
Last week, NASA finally determined it was the Power Control Unit (PCU), which lives on the Command & Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit along with the payload computer. It was an all-hands-on-deck scenario as retired Hubble engineers came back to help devise a fix. NASA was able to successfully get Hubble operational again late last week thanks to these efforts. Luckily, the SI C&DH is not the one that Hubble launched with in 1990. NASA encountered a similar failure of the original SI C&DH in 2008 and had to switch to the backup hardware. That module was replaced in 2009 during Hubble’s last servicing mission.
Until the James Webb Space Telescope launches, Hubble is the only general-purpose space observatory we have. So, scientists wasted no time getting back to work. NASA released some of the first new Hubble images (above) to show everything is working normally once again. These images come from a program led by Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington.
On the left is ARP-MADORE2115-273, a rare example of two galaxies in the process of merging. On the right is ARP-MADORE0002-503, a single galaxy with an unusual structure. It’s a spiral galaxy, but it’s got three arms. Most other spirals (like the Milky Way) have an even number of arms. Since these images have only just been captured, there are no color versions available at this time. It’s amazing to see this mission still producing amazing science after three decades. At this rate, it’s looking like Hubble will share the sky with Webb, at least for a while.
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